In early 2011, protesters flooded Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Clashes between pro- and anti-government groups turned violent, even deadly.
In response to uprisings across the country, President Hosni Mubarak stepped down from power after nearly 30 years of authoritarian rule, and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces took control of the government.
New York-based photographer Brian Driscoll was there to document the revolution. In the process, he connected with several young people involved in the protests.
He tried to keep in contact after returning home and, through them, learned of a side of the revolution his photos had left unexposed.
“I began hearing about people being abducted by SCAF, being falsely accused of things that they didn’t do and being detained. And so I started researching and just kept on it,” Driscoll says.
Driscoll returned to Egypt in January 2012, this time hoping to focus his lens on what he felt was an untold story of the revolution, the unjustified arrests and military trial of civilians.
It was pivotal period in Egypt. SCAF had suspended the constitution and remained in power, but the first parliamentary elections since the days of Mubarak were under way.
“Everyone seemed a little bit on edge. They were quiet at first, until I met this one person, Dr. R,” he says.
Dr. R told Driscoll he was arrested by SCAF on Mohamed Mahmoud Street in downtown Cairo and detained for 26 days in a military prison. He said he was stripped, beaten and tortured with electric shocks before being released.
“He offered tremendous insight into some of the human rights abuses taking place.”
Dr. R was one of the first subjects Driscoll photographed for his collection, “Political Prisoners of a Revolution.”
Thousands of civilians like Dr. R have been detained and brought to trial in military courts, according to Human Rights Watch. The organization has documented “widespread torture” by the military against civilians since Mubarak’s fall from power.
When he first approached victims and their families about the project, Driscoll says he would often be turned away at the door. Slowly, over a series of meetings, his subjects opened up about their experiences.
He chose to capture portraits because he wanted a “straight-up approach” that gave a face and a voice to the “those who suffered unjust consequences for their political beliefs.”
Driscoll described the sessions with one word: intense.
“If I was there photographing and somebody found out, right across the alleyway there, it could be a nightmare for the people living there. I had to be extra careful, almost sneaking around, so yeah, it was intense, absolutely,” he says.
“There’s always a fear of people talking and telling the local military officer.”
Despite the tension and uncertainty, Driscoll found that, with time, many victims were determined to talk.
“For the most part people want to be heard. They want to tell their story. They want to tell the world what they’re experiencing and what they’ve gone through,” he says.
Driscoll spent three months in Egypt capturing these stories and hopes to return again, but for now they remain unfinished. He has not been in contact with his subjects for security reasons since he left the country in 2012.
Today, Egypt is still a country in transition.
Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsy was elected president but later deposed in a military coup. Mubarak was sentenced to life in prison for ordering the killing of protesters in Tahrir square. Egyptians voted on a new constitution giving more power to the military and on January 18, the Election Commission announced it had been approved with more than 98% of the vote. Many observers said opposition had been silenced through intimidation and arrests.
“It’s at such a crucial time what’s going on there right now and what’s to come in the next decade. Nobody really knows for sure,” Driscoll says.
- Julie Knaga, CNN